BEFORE even lacing up his gloves, making that daunting walk to the ring and climbing through the ropes for his professional debut, Muhammad Ali has already won a long-standing fight.
The Rochdale-born fighter finally became the first ever British fighter with type one diabetes to be granted a professional licence by the British Boxing Board of Control this year and he will make his long-desired debut on September 15.
Following an arduous battle across three frustrating years, Ali eventually came out of a successful meeting on May 9 with his allocated license, with his relentless work outside of the ring having ultimately been worthwhile.
“It’s been a long three years,” Ali admits as the sweat still trickles down his face from another tough session at Elite Boxing gym in Bolton.
“Back in 2015 I was supposed to make my professional debut in Preston but my license got rejected because of me being diabetic.
“Then my manager Asad Shamim, he said to me ‘let’s not give up, we’ll challenge the board’ and get a good team together. So we got solicitors involved, we also got medical doctor Ian Gallan on board, who works with Sir Steve Redgrave, and we showed the British board that I’m fully fit to box.”
Type one diabetes is a condition which runs in Ali’s family and one which has handed him many setbacks along his journey towards becoming a fighter in the sport’s paid ranks.
It’s an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body cannot produce insulin, the hormone which controls the amount of sugar in your blood. This requires consistent administration of insulin, either by injection or via an insulin pump.
Here lay the problem for Ali, who was told on countless occasions by boxing’s British hierarchy that he would not realise his dream of turning pro after a solid amateur background.
Those previously preventing such a target had little medical reasoning to hold Ali back other than simply using his condition at the forefront of their case, stating that checking blood sugar levels during a fight would be “too disruptive.”
That frustratingly strict stance has since been overturned and Ali now has a simple and effective method of showcasing his health to those involved at ringside for future bouts.
“The response I always got from the British board was that there was no actual medical reason,” continues the 24-year-old, now comfortably seated upon a derailed heavy bag in the corner of the gym.
“It was just full stop because of being diabetic and therefore they couldn’t grant me a license at that moment in time. That was it really, I wasn’t given any medical reason.
“But now I’ve got a chip in the side of my hip, which I can scan a small monitor and it shows my blood sugar and glucose levels without having to prick my finger for blood. And this can be checked in between rounds as well, so the board are now happy with that.”
Three years of patiently waiting, ticking over in the gym and helping his assembled team fight his corner in boardrooms across the country will finally culminate at Victoria Warehouse in Stretford on September 15th.
While achieving success within the squared-circle is his obvious goal for the immediate future, beginning with a four-round debut on home soil, Ali is hoping his endeavours will help pave the way for further diabetics to overcome boundaries in boxing.
“Most definitely,” he explains passionately when asked if inspiring others is a key goal of his too.
“That’s the reason why I have been going back and forth with my team, to get my license and to finally open doors for diabetics in the UK and around the world.”
While fittingly situated under one of the gym’s motivational boards reading ‘every champion was once a contender that refused to give up,’ Ali adds: “Just to show them, don’t give up, don’t let something that’s a challenge stop them.”
“I don’t class diabetes as something I suffer from, it’s a challenge to me and it’s a condition, a controllable condition.
“And on September 15 when I put a show on, everybody will realise not to sleep on a condition or a challenge that you’ve got. Just educate yourself and challenge the challenge.”
Training camp is almost complete and having had to wait in the wings for so long, the highly-driven Alex Matvienko-trained fighter will finally seize his opportunity in a professional boxing ring in front of many friends and family come September 15.
With a long-winded exhale of relief, before heading for further questioning in front of on hand BBC cameras and microphones, Ali concludes: “It’s been years in the making. You’ll see on the night, I’m going to put on a performance. We’re ready to rumble now.”
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